(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron gave an unabashed defense of the European Union in its political heart, urging the bloc to reject nationalism, deepen integration and promote free trade in the face of U.S. protectionism.
In his first appearance at the European Parliament since being elected France’s head of state last year, Macron said divisions in the 28-nation EU evoke a “civil war” as the bloc prepares for Brexit and confronts challenges to the rule of law in eastern Europe. The EU has “unique” strengths in economic, environmental and social matters and can inspire European citizens, he said.
“We must overcome all this inward-looking, nationalist selfishness,” Macron, the youngest French leader since Napoleon, told the EU lawmakers on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France. “I hope in future months we will overcome North, South, East, West divides.”
Macron’s defeat of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France’s 2017 presidential election has emboldened the EU, giving it hopes of curbing centrifugal forces symbolized by the U.K.’s vote to leave the bloc and of forging ahead with common policies to tackle everything from banking risks to refugee waves.
Macron dismissed anti-EU politicians such as Brexit-champion Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party, comparing them to religious fanatics who “stoke passions” and criticize without offering concrete solutions.
“All of this is terribly wrong,” Macron said. “People haven’t given up on Europe. It’s the treachery of the clerics that have done this.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, hailed Macron’s speech.
“The true France is back,” Juncker said in Strasbourg.
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